The summer break is over, F1 is back and it returns with one of the greatest circuits in the world, Spa Francorchamps, and the Belgium GP.
This will be the first weekend that the car has to comply with the new technical directive regarding Flexi floors, could this shake up the pecking order? Practice results would suggest not and it even looked as though RedBull had gained quite a big advantage over the rest of the field. Qualifying would be the true test and provide us with a view of how the changes have made difference If any.
As usual in the Hybrid era, teams have decided to take engine penalties to introduce new parts into the seasons pool so they have more choice later in the season. This would mean that after today’s qualifying session, at least Verstappen, Leclerc, Norris, Ocon, Schumacher, Zhou, and Bottas would all receive grid penalties.
With ten minutes to go until the start of the session, the temperature had dropped to just 16 degrees, something that would mean Mercedes might struggle with their season-long battle to try and get temperature into their tyres. The start of qualifying would be delayed due to repairs being needed to some of the armco barriers after a crash in the Porsche Supercup support race.
25 minutes after it was originally scheduled to start, qualifying finally got underway. First out on track was Latifi in the Williams who went straight back into the pits at the end of his first lap. The first driver to set a time was Mick Schumacher. The two Mercedes jumped ahead of the Haas but were immediately beaten by Perez in the RedBull, by almost a second.
After the first runs, the top four were the usual suspects of both RedBull and Ferraris, led by Verstappen and Sainz, they were followed by the two Alpines. The two Mercedes went for a second lap on the softs but still could only make it to 10th and 11th with Russell ahead of Hamilton. Everyone went for another run on fresh tyres apart from the top four. The Mercedes drivers improved to 5th and 7th.
At the other end of the field and out of qualifying were Vettel, Latifi, Magnussen, Tsunoda, and Bottas. At the top of the field was Max Verstappen with a time of 1.44.581.
Q2 began, and the first driver to set a time was Lewis Hamilton. He was beaten by his teammate George Russell by 3 tenths of a second. Then came Max Verstappen beating the two Mercedes by a massive 1.5 seconds. The two Redbulls led the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz by almost three-quarters of a second. The Redbulls seemed to be in a league of their own this weekend. They were followed by Ocon, Norris, and Leclerc who had a scruffy lap and was complaining of handling issues. Then came Alonso, Russell, Gasly, and Hamilton rounding out the top ten. The final runs began with the two Alpines at the front of the queue.
Neither RedBull needed to go out again such was their dominance. Leclerc had a better run and topped the times with a 1.44.551 ahead of the two Redbulls, behind them was Sainz, Hamilton, Russell, Ocon, Alonso, Norris, and Albon. The outward-bound McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo was the first to be illuminated in 11th along with Gasly, Zhou, Stroll, and Schumacher.
A strange start to Q3 knowing 3 of the drivers taking part would have grid penalties applied at the end of the session. Halfway around Leclerc’s first lap he realised he had the wrong tyres on the car, yet another Ferrari error. The team ended up telling him to do the lap anyway. At the end of the first runs Verstappen was again top of the times ahead of Sainz in the Ferrari, next came Perez, Leclerc, Ocon, Norris, Russell, Albon, Hamilton, and Alonso who chose to abort his lap.
Verstappen with his grid penalty decided not to do a final run, the same went for Norris, and Leclerc, however, he reappeared on track and gave his team mate a tow down the long straight. It didn’t really seem to help as the Spaniard had a scruffy lap, however thanks to Verstappen’s penalty, he would still be on pole for the race tomorrow. Third was Perez, with Leclerc next up, then came Ocon and Alonso. Next up was Hamilton and Russell ahead of Albon and Norris.
Once all the penalties have been given out the grid will look very different at the start of tomorrow’s race.
Will the weather gods play games like last year or could we get a dry race with a very mixed-up grid providing us with a great race at a great race track?
Whatever happens, the Belgium GP should be a classic.